John Bernecker, a veteran stuntman, died this week during production of the AMC series The Walking Dead (2010-). According to TMZ, Bernecker died in the hospital Thursday evening, where he was surrounded by friends, family, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Cocker, who is a stuntwoman. Bernecker was 33.
But how exactly did the stuntman die?
Bernecker died from blunt force trauma after falling 22 feet from a balcony to a concrete floor. According to NY Daily News, he slipped while rehearsing a fight scene with one of the show’s actors, Austin Amelio, and was subsequently rushed to the Atlanta Medical Center, where he was put on a ventilator. He was pronounced brain-dead on July 12th, and taken off of the ventilator the following day. AMC has since shut down production on The Walking Dead.
Police told TMZ that there was a safety cushion in place to catch Bernecker after he fell to the ground. As per assistant director Matthew Goodwin, however, he missed the cushion “by inches.” Goodwin adds that Bernecker didn’t get good separation from the balcony, and even “attempted to abort the fall by grabbing onto the railing with both hands.” This momentum reportedly slammed him into the bottom of the balcony and the subsequent fall caused him to land on his neck and head.
It’s believed that this is the first time in 17 years that a stuntman has died while performing on a film or television series in the United States. This is according to Deadline, though they did not specify on which set the accident last occurred.
Variety reports that the SAG-AFTRA guild is investigating the accident. A representative for the guild said: “We have been informed of a serious injury to a SAG-AFTRA member on the set of The Walking Dead and are investigating the situation. As always, the safety and security of our members and others on set is of crucial concern to us, and we are focused on this in our investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the performer and his family.”
Bernecker worked as a stuntman for over a decade, and some of his most notable credits include The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), 22 Jump Street (2014), Fantastic Four (2015), Keanu (2016) and the upcoming Marvel film Black Panther, which is scheduled for release in 2018. Watch some of his most notable stunts above. Bernecker also had acting roles in The Last Witch Hunter (2015), Logan (2017) and season one of HBO’s True Detective (2014).
Several of Bernecker’s collaborators took to social media to pay tribute to him, including actors Kellan Lutz, Lauren Cohan, Gina Carano and Sarah Michelle Gellar, as well as Michael Bay, who recently directed him in Transformers: The Last Knight (2017). “Sending my support to the cast and crew of The Walking Dead and the entire Stunt Community that we love,” he wrote. “Such a sad day with the passing of John Bernecker, in a tragic accident on their set.”